The Kutchi bandhini has taken its pride of place on ramps and for artisans like Abdul Jabbar Khatri, it’s a reason to cheer

“Every dot of bandhini is tied by hand and dyed. It may not be uniform and the minor variations add to its beauty,” says designer Aneeth Arora of label Pero, whose clothes are global enough to be sold across 25 countries but the craft remains Indian in essence. She has been using small and large bandhini time and again for her creations and sources them from Abdul Jabbar Khatri in Kutch, who has become a favourite with designers like Aneeth, Rahul Mishra, label Celldsgn (11:11) and Tarun Tahiliani.

Jabbar was born into a family of bandhini craftsmen but his family had discontinued the craft simply because of lack of demand. After five generations, Abdul and his brother took it up. “I learnt tie and dye when I was 13; it helped me earn pocket money,” says Jabbar. He has stayed with bandhini for the last 22 years.

Jabbar is among the younger, educated artisans giving bandhini its much-needed global appeal without losing out on ethnic sensibilities. “I like to give a contemporary look to an old technique,” he outlines.

Demonstrating how a traditional tie and dye is done, he says, “Bandhini ‘odhnis’ are treasured pieces of work, handed down over generations.” He shows us an 80-year-old fabric with the intricate Kutch ‘chand rokhni’ pattern and says, “Sometimes, women preserve these pieces carefully. They remove the tied threads but do not open and iron the fabric and pass it on to their granddaughters. We began teaching the technique to 12-year-old girls to keep the art alive. Once they learn it, it is up to them to decide if they want to continue the line of work.”

In recent years, Kutch-inspired garments have made their presence felt on fashion week ramps, luring more designers to use the rich textiles and crafts from the region. “There’s a notion about designers — that they use a textile tradition for one collection and then look away. This can be demoralising for craftsmen who supply the raw materials. I use a bit of different crafts, including bandhini, for every line I bring out,” says Aneeth. She is as intrigued by bandhini as any fashion spectator is. “There’s an element of surprise as the threads are slowly opened and the patterns reveal themselves,” she says.

Understanding the vagaries of fashion business, artisans like Jabbar realise the need to innovate. On an average, if he supplies 100 pieces of fabric for designers, his workshop creates another 100 to be sold through his own little store. Along with traditional patterns and colours, one would find muted reds/corals and softer grey tones in his creations. Besides saris, he specialises in stoles in colours that would cater to the global market.

Jabbar Khatri has exhibited his collections in Europe and US and has been recognised by the UNESCO for his work (he received a seal of excellence from UNESCO in 2007) for reviving a traditional ‘chand rokhni’ pattern.

(The writer was in Ahmedabad and Kutch as part of a textile trail tour organised by Jaypore-Breakaway tours. www.break-away.in).